Cork was deep in thoughts so terrible that he didn't notice at first the sound in the trees. Or rather, the lack of sound. Usually in the mornings, at the first hint of light, the birds began their chatter. Only a few at first, but by the time Cork was halfway through his route, it usually seemed as if the whole of avian existence had been aroused. As he walked now, he suddenly became aware that the soft click of Jackson's paw nails on the pavement and his rhythmic panting were the only sounds. He stopped and listened more care- fully. Not a single bird.

He was on Beech Street, still two blocks from the businesses of Aurora. There were streetlights at intersections, but no lights between. Cork stood in near darkness, the town of Aurora— houses and trees and the distant courthouse tower—nothing but black silhouettes against the promise of dawn, the thinnest hope of a new day.

Then he saw it. For the second time. Among all those predawn silhouettes. The towering shadowy shape from Lightning Strike. Bending as if preparing to leap at Cork.

Jackson must have seen it, too, or sensed it, because he let out a low, threatening growl, then commenced to barking up a storm. Part English setter and part bulldog, Jackson was a canine with a fighter's heart. Cork knelt and threw his arms around his dog, seeking both to be protected and to protect.

Nothing came at him, and when he looked up, the shape was gone. Just as it had been gone in an instant at Lightning Strike. In its place was the silhouette of a tall spruce swaying in the wind that had risen. From far to the west came the low rumble of thunder, a summer storm moving in.

Jackson ceased his barking but, like Cork, continued to stare at the swaying evergreen.

"Come on, boy. We still have papers to deliver."

©2021 William Kent Krueger, reprinted with permission from Atria Books.